Success Stories

  • While DPS has begun introducing recycling into the lunchroom as of the 2016-2017 school year, some schools have already become leaders in recycling due to the hard work of a few key players. Not only are these schools reducing their trash waste, students as young as kindergarten are already learning to reduce, reuse, and recycle.


    E.K. Powe

    In the fall of 2014, two E.K. Powe parents, Susan Budziszewski and Bobby Hartman, noticed an important lesson missing from their children's education: Recycling. Only a handful of teachers had recycling bins in their classrooms. The lunchroom lacked a recycling set-up, and those materials that made it into the right bin did not make it to the recycling facility. The outdoor trash dumpster was easily accessible, but the recycling dumpster was placed a significant distance away, making it impractical. Recycling bags taken out at the end of the day inevitably ended back in the trash pile. Beginning in the fall of 2014, Susan and Bobby teamed up with Every Tray Counts to launch a recycling program at E.K. Powe Elementary with a focus on the lunchroom.

    After months of involvement, E.K. Powe’s lunchroom has become a model for recycling. The recycling dumpster is now easily accessible for custodians. Funds for composting are generously donated by a local restaurant, Oval Park Grill, and the school was able to obtain compostable trays for the lunchroom, further reducing the trash volume. During the first few months of school, Susan and Bobby attended lunches to guide students through the new waste disposal process. Students dump their remaining liquids into the collection sink, reference large signs to accurately sort out recyclables from trash, throw their leftover food into the composting bin, and finally stack their trays to be later added to the composting. Students have now mastered the process, and E.K. Powe has become a pioneer leader in lunchroom recycling throughout Durham Public Schools.


    Little River - Melissa Harap

    At Little River K-8, Melissa Harap, a 4th grade teacher, single-handedly led her school in becoming a recycling champion. In the classrooms, every teacher has a recycling bin that students have learned to use effectively. When in doubt, students can reference guidance stickers on the side of each bin. At the end of the week, Ms. Harap’s AIG students travel around in teams and collect the recycling from each classroom into larger bins they leave by the doors for custodians. Each hallway crew also uses a sheet to check-off classrooms. Not only has this helped Ms. Harap keep track of rooms that are frequently locked or low on recycling, but being a member of the Recycling Crew has given students lessons in leadership and teamwork. When asked why she enjoys recycling, one of Ms. Harap’s 4th grade students responded that it was great to see how teamwork can have a positive impact.

    Little River’s recycling success does not end in the classroom. As one of the first schools in the district to receive lunchroom recycling bins, Ms. Harap has had an opportunity to introduce the process in the cafeteria where students now recycle their milk cartons. Her collaboration with the custodians has been significant to the school’s progress, and the custodians appreciate the reduced weight of the trashbags. Additionally, as part of a Keep Durham Beautiful recycling initiative, Ms. Harap set up collection jars in each classroom for old pens, markers, dry erase markers, tape dispensers, and tape cores to be taken to recycling. Once the jars are full, one to two collection boxes are taken around the school, and Durham County receives a few cents for each of the materials.

    In the coming school year, Ms. Harap will move from 4th to 7th grade, but she hopes to continue engaging her students in the rewarding nature of working together to enhance their school and the environment.

    Students flourish when given time to explore nature. Time outdoors has been connected with enhanced memory, concentration, and alertness. Many teachers understand the significance of allowing students to explore plants and tend to a garden. Below, a few schools with developed agriculture and floriculture projects are spotlighted.


    Forest View Elementary School

    Jamie Barnhill and Sarah Tichnor, two Kindergarten teachers at Forest View Elementary School, have provided students with the opportunity to become more engaged with the outdoors by building various gardens on the school’s property. Forest View has a total of ten gardens, some designated by grade and others intended for the entire student body.

    The grade-designated gardens include three for kindergarten, two or three for 2nd and 3rd grade, and one for 4th grade. The 4th grade garden is laid out to represent North Carolina from the mountains to the sea, an unique design that supplements the grade’s curriculum. The additional gardens are located throughout other areas on the school’s property and are accessible to all grade levels.

    The Kindergarten Garden is located next to the kindergarten playground. Originally built with money awarded by a grant in 2001, the first version of was 20ft x 20ft. A fence was gradually built surrounding the perimeter. Later with money from an additional grant, Jamie and Sarah were able to expand the garden to 40ft x 60ft, making room for more plants and produce. Currently, the garden is home to blueberries, peaches, fennel, blackberries, mint, strawberries, and many more.

    The largest garden is located in the interior of the school’s courtyard. Marylu Flowers, the art teacher, facilitates the maintenance of this garden with help from Science teachers, Diane Daly and Lauren Greene. Its size allows produce such as blackberries, pears, broccoli, beans, lettuce, kale, pumpkins and more to be grown.

    Student engagement is a major component to Forest View’s many gardens. Teachers use the gardens for experiential learning activities including how to grow different plants and how caterpillars and butterflies utilize fennel. Students examine not only the stages of insects, both beneficial and pest, but also document and draw their findings. One class even built their own Secret Garden related to their literary study. Forest View’s EC class uses this space for their recess, and the Science Lab and the Art classes use the Courtyard as an outdoor classroom. During recess, students are also given the opportunity to explore the Kindergarten Garden and enjoy being outside in nature with the different plants that they have helped to grow.


    George-Watts Montessori Magnet School

    In 2009, former George-Watts parent, Alice Bumgarner, began construction and planting of a school-wide garden. The garden has continued to expand, and now students at George-Watts have the unique opportunity to enjoy and participate in a large gardening system.

    Along Urban Avenue students can delight in perennial gardens with trees growing figs, persimmons, and grapes. The courtyard garden closer to the school hosts pawpaw trees, strawberries, blueberries, herbs, josta berries, and six separately raised beds for vegetables. Students in primary grades have the unique opportunity to care for the six raised beds with each assigned to a different class.

    Additionally, a new playground project beginning this summer will help to rework existing garden beds that are currently decomposing. New construction will replace these beds with long and narrowly raised gardens to protect students playing outside and make it easier to tend to plants. A butterfly and pollinator garden that is home to several monarch caterpillars also provides students with a fun and natural place to explore.

    George-Watts has even gone the extra mile to reduce its resource consumption by purchasing a cistern with a grant from the Durham County Community Conservation Assistance Program. Here, students can experience first-hand a piece of the water cycle. The cistern collects rain from the roof and provides more than enough water to fully care for the gardens.

    Each of these efforts contributes to an enhanced learning environment at George-Watts where students can tangibly interact with their surroundings while gaining insight into the gardening process and the water cycle.